First lady lauds wheelchair athlete Gabe Diaz de Leon for overcoming obstacles
Alumnus Gabe Diaz de Leon seldom slows down for anyone or anything.
That’s one reason Michelle Obama asked him to join her in London for the Summer Olympics. She led a delegation of Olympians and Paralympians as part of her initiative to encourage children to be active. The two hung out together during U.S. basketball and field hockey games.
“It was a pretty big honor,” Diaz de Leon says of spending time with the first lady at the Olympics and the “Let’s Move! London” event for American military children and American and British children. Once those games ended, the San Antonio native stuck around for the Paralympic Games as a coach for the U.S. track and field team.
Diaz de Leon was paralyzed in 1984 while serving as an Army military police officer in Honduras. After his discharge, he turned to sports. He spent four years on UT Arlington’s Movin’ Mavs wheelchair basketball team, playing on national championship squads in 1991 and 1992. He has since played on five U.S. Paralympic teams and five U.S. World Championship teams.
“I heard about the Paralympic Games and decided to make it a goal to go to them in Seoul in 1988,” he says.
He did, and by 1992 he set a world record and earned a gold medal in the javelin at the Barcelona Games. In addition to his javelin gold, Diaz de Leon won a silver medal in the discus in 1992 and bronze medals in the shot put and discus in 1988, 1996, and 2000.
His retirement in 2004 was short-lived, and he returned in 2008 to win the “A” Division of the American Wheelchair Bowling Championship. A member of the Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame, he coaches the seated throwing athletes for the U.S. World Championship teams and participates in disabled youth sports camps and the Wounded Warriors Project.
In her speech to the “Let’s Move! London” delegation, the first lady described how Diaz de Leon overcame his injury to emerge as one of the world’s top wheelchair athletes. She concluded: “That’s my guy, Gabe. And today he’s focused on inspiring and coaching other wounded warriors.”